I’ve taken a month-long hiatus to settle up some things, but I’m back! There are plenty more stories, we’re barely halfway across the country.
After a late night in Louisville, I woke up to the sweet mumblings of the lunch crowd hitting Hooters below my motel window. “Seems kind of early for chicken wings…” I thought as I stretched reluctantly towards the edge of the bed and blinked in what I assumed to be the morning light. I was gathering up a mini shampoo and inspecting an in-room coffee maker when the phone rang.
“Hello! This is the front desk, I was just calling to tell you that check out is at 11am. Will you be staying another night with us?”
“Oh! Thanks for telling me, I assumed it would be noon, but that’s not a problem, I’ll be- OH. Shhhhhhwow. It’s 1:30.”
“Wow. Well ok! Um, ha! I guess you kind of want me out of here pretty soon? Sorry!”
“Yes. Check IN will begin at 3 so we really needed you to be out long before 2. Thanks and have a great day!”
I hung up the phone and sleepily considered myself in the mirror for a moment. I eyed the shampoo longingly, looked quickly at the clock, then froze with my body facing the shower and my eyes surveying the belongings I had strewn across the room that now needed to be packed.
Ten seconds passed before I admitted defeat through whispered curses and ran around stuffing things in a plastic bag. Wearing the shirt I slept in and wrinkled cut-offs, I stumbled down to the front desk and managed to get out of there by 1:47pm. It was as I was sitting on the back of my car drinking miraculously still-available free coffee and eating from a lukewarm can of tuna that I realized I kind of had a date that night in Chicago.
A couple guys I went to college with were now sharing an apartment in Chicago, and I had planned on staying with them for a few nights. I had further planned on having dinner with one of them- the one I used to date- that night upon arrival in the city. Unwilling to consider the wisdom behind deciding (first) to crash at an ex-boyfriend’s place and (second) to schedule a dinner date with him, I adjusted the headband concealing my three-day-old hair and put on more deoderant before getting in the car.
One more cup of coffee, several more whispered curses and two hours later I found myself in a Marriott parking lot in Indianapolis. It was 4pm, dinner was scheduled for 8pm and I was three hours away from Chicago. My date had just called and we’d decided on a really nice restaurant for dinner. I tried weakly to suggest somewhere cheaper, but when he offered to pay I offered a, “What? Oh no, you don’t have to do – well, that’s really so nice, wow, thank you, I can’t wait,” followed by an inevitable internal struggle related to feminism, followed by an equally inevitable series of rationalizations related to pay gaps and institutionalized sexism.
A valet jogged over to inform me that only guests checking in could park where I was, so I grabbed my purse and said, “Well perfect! That’s what I’m doing!” before heading purposefully into the lobby of a really nice hotel.
Looking and smelling very much like a drifter with a 100-page anti-establishment manifesto in my backpack, I walked up to the front desk to execute the only plan I’d come up with to try to look presentable by 8pm.
“Hi, do you know of a hair place, or, like, a salon or something where I could wash my hair? Like a blowout or something? Maybe in the hotel?”
The woman I was talking to looked questioningly at me, then turned to her coworker, who’d been listening. They both tried to understand what I was saying when finally a woman from the other side broke in and said, “Actually… Ok, you just need your hair washed?”
“Yes, exactly, it’s just, I’m travelling, and I have this thing tonight, but I didn’t have time to shower, and I just-”
Leaning in, she interrupted me quickly and said, “Listen, if you’re quick, I can give you a key to a changing room on the 4th floor. Guests almost never use it, it’s all staff, would that be ok?”
Restraining myself, I pounded my hand on the marble counter and nodded giddily, mumbling gratitudes as she coded the key. I ran back out to my car and grabbed a clean dress and a straightening iron before walking coolly by the valets again exclaiming, “Um, I’ll be, I’ll be right back.”
The shower was glorious, the fancy towels felt like cherub hugs, and the shampoo and lotion made the whole place smell of vanilla and sage. I was sitting on a velvety stool in front of the vanity combing my hair and blissfully examining Marriott’s many fine changing room amenities when a woman in black pants and a polo shirt stormed in and stopped abruptly when she saw me.
“Oh, um, hi, how’s your day been,” she said, waiting for my response.
“Welllll…. almost over now thank god!” I blurted without considering my options. “You?”
“OH my god,” she said slamming down her duffel bag having clearly decided that I was an employee. “So I just went in to give this guy a massage, he says he’s from Africa and/or Europe or whatever and I like lay out the table and HE says, ‘How much?’ and I’m like didn’t they tell you over the phone and he says, ‘Yes, and then I- oh, I- can I have a minute?’ and he’s like IN his towel…”
“No… I refuse to try to imagine what he’s doing right now.”
“Um EXACTLY!” she yelled, smiling. “I don’t know WHAT he thinks is about to happen here but I swear to god… this is not ok. I WILL send Joe up there.”
By the time I got back downstairs, I smelled like fresh muffins, my hair had emerged from homeless and was approaching silky, and I had three new stories about foreign businessmen propositioning masseuses to share over dinner.
When I thanked the women at the front desk, they complemented my shoes and cooed knowingly about the importance of nice hair when seeing former boyfriends or husbands, the valets got the door for me and wished me a safe drive, and as I rolled north and Indianapolis quickly disappeared from my rearview mirror, I wondered if the whole experience had been a dream. Even in the hospitality industry, it’s rare to find a group of people who will so thoroughly rally around a stranger’s cause, especially when the stranger is smelly and the cause is vanity.
Fortunately it was all real, and even though the restaurant in Chicago lost our reservation and we ended up going back to his apartment for pizza, beer and baseball, I still felt really good about my shoes, really thankful for being able to pretend that I showered every day, and really eager to return to Indianapolis the following week to see what else the city could offer me.